Instead of nursing facilities, a New York Times article goes after assisted living.

As many of you are aware by now, there was a not too complimentary op-ed article last Sunday in the New York Times called “How Not to Grow Old in America.” The bottom line, according to the author, is that assisted living is not the answer for our elderly.

One can argue about some statements and characterizations in the article, as ASHA did in a response to the paper, but at least one central theme is something I have been saying for a while. And that is, we are putting too much money into the physical plant and not enough into staffing and training. It’s kind of like golf, where you drive for show and putt for dough. In senior living, it’s lights out amenities to get them in, but reputations are based on care and quality. If you don’t excel at the latter, in the long run the amenities won’t matter so much.

With the current tight labor market, and the push for a higher minimum wage rate, this is the biggest vulnerability the industry faces. It is also the most important factor impacting returns, for operators, investors and REITs. The problem is, I just don’t see an end to it coming any time soon. 

Yes, a major economic downturn would free up some labor, but as acuity levels rise, the number of workers is just one piece of the puzzle. We need far better and more consistent training, and better industry PR to get higher quality line staff in our communities. Tell me what you think at next week’s NIC Conference.